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Nicotine is a highly addictive central nervous system stimulant.1 When ingested, it gives you focus and concentration, accelerates your heart and breathing rate, and increases blood pressure. It is linked to raised alertness, the sensation of euphoria, and a sensation of being relaxed.2
Once in the habit of using nicotine in any form, it is difficult to stop. According to Medical News Today, it is at least as hard to give up as heroin.
Unlike heroin, however, it is much harder to achieve a lethal dose of nicotine. In fact, it's extremely rare to do so. The vast majority of reported cases of nicotine poisoning or overdose have not been from people using the drug for recreational purposes, but from cases of accidental ingestion of nicotine products (especially for kids), from contact with tobacco leaves, or from its use as a pesticide (which has been outlawed in the United States since 2014).3
That said, it is possible to overdose on nicotine, which for the purposes of this article means ingesting a lethal dose. Cigarettes, gum, patches, and e-liquid containing nicotine could all potentially cause an overdose if taken in large enough amounts. Usually, this is seen in the case of children or pets accidentally ingesting these products.
What most people are more likely to experience is a series of unpleasant side effects that result from ingesting a larger-than-comfortable dosage of nicotine.
Note: You should never drink e-liquid, and never ever combine smoking with patches, or gum, or any other combination of nicotine-containing products. Doing so can be very dangerous. For children and pets, accidental ingestion of these items can be very serious. Keep them away and out of reach.
How Much Is Too Much Nicotine?
A likely figure for a lethal dose of nicotine for adults has been estimated to be between 500-1000 mg.4 In contrast, the average U.S. cigarette delivers between one and two mg of nicotine, though this amount differs by brand and type.5 It would take smoking over 100 cigarettes in a short time period to ingest a lethal dose.
You don't have to smoke 100 cigarettes to start feeling sick, however. Even at dosages much, much less than a lethal dose, nicotine can cause some very unpleasant side effects.
Nicotine Sickness (Nic Sick)
Nicotine sickness is not life-threatening, just very unpleasant. Luckily, because it's so unpleasant, it prevents people from continuing to ingest nicotine and reaching toxic doses. Its symptoms often include:
- Racing heart
- Sweating or clamminess
The amount of nicotine a person can take without feeling any ill side effects varies drastically due to:
- Prior nicotine usage
- Whether or not they've eaten recently
- Other biological and behavioral factors
It can be easy to accidentally take an uncomfortable dose of nicotine if you've started to use it again after a period when you weren't using it, when you're using a new delivery method (i.e. vaping), or if you're trying a new product (like a new cigar or new e-cig liquid).
If you're experiencing nicotine sickness, and unless you've ingested a large amount of nicotine in a highly unusual manner (as in the above scenarios), you're going to be okay. There are some things you can do to help with the discomfort.